Kids Change Family Dynamics

Mark and I in Nantes, December 2013

Mark and I in Nantes, Decem­ber 2013

This year, Christ­mas was a fam­ily affair in France. We stayed at my par­ents’ place in Nantes with my sis­ter (25 years old), my brother (22 years old), my grand­par­ents on both sides, my uncle, aunt and my two young cousins.

Yes, I have a rather large family.

And now I have my own—Feng, Mark and I are a family-in-training.

It’s funny how a kid changes dynamics.

My par­ents are young, in their early fifties, and my brother and sis­ter are barely out of their teens. Sud­denly, they have been pro­moted to the grade of “grand-maman”, “grand-papa”, “tata” and “ton­ton”. As for me, I’m a mother, a wife and then a daugh­ter and a sister.

In a fam­ily, every­one has a role. As the old­est, I have always been the peace­keeper and the caretaker.

Some­time, I can’t help feel­ing I no longer exist. It’s prob­a­bly a silly para­noid thought, a sim­ple mis­un­der­stand­ing. But I do get annoyed when, on bad days, I call my mum on Skype for some com­fort and the first thing she asks is “Is Mark here? Can you turn the web­cam on, can I see him?”

Yes, of course Mark is here!” I feel like shout­ing. “Where else on earth would he be? He’s been cling­ing to me the entire day! Mean­while *I* am not okay, can you please be here for me?”

Peo­ple find Mark cute, smart, bright, funny, etc. Hey, I’m not going to dis­agree. Yet, our son can be a real pain in the butt. When he doesn’t blind his father or throw tantrums, he refuses to sleep. When I leave him in his room for two min­utes to go pee, he screams as if a giant bear was eat­ing him alive. And if I show signs of annoy­ance, my par­ents just say “I know, I know… but look, he is so cute!”

Yeah, thanks, I know. He is doing fine. I am just wor­ried he is killing us and I need advice and a sym­pa­thetic ear, that’s all.

You’re over­re­act­ing,” my dad said jok­ingly a few times. No, I’m not. Sure, it’s fine if he goes to bed at 1 a.m. on Christ­mas Eve but I cer­tainly won’t do that at home—otherwise, when do I rest, when do I work?

Becom­ing a mother, I feel like I lost my par­ents’ atten­tion. I wish some­one would take care of me. I’m usu­ally pretty good at tak­ing care of myself, I’ve been doing so for a long time. But these days, I spent all my energy on Mark and I for­got myself in the process. Before I can do any­thing, includ­ing the basics such as eat­ing, sleep­ing or tak­ing a shower, I have to make sure he is okay—fed, changed, bathed, busy play­ing, etc. The world revolves around Mark, rightly so… but why can’t any­one do some­thing nice for me, for once?

Dynam­ics also changed with Feng’s par­ents, my in-laws. I jok­ingly nick­named them the “Bùkū” (不哭), which means “don’t cry” in Man­darin. It took Mark about six months to get used to them, he used to scream on top of his lungs every time they held him or played with him, and they would pace the living-room repeat­ing “don’t cry, don’t cry!”

Feng’s par­ents are nice peo­ple, albeit very stub­born and con­vinced that they know best. They also tend to for­get their only son is almost 40, not 10, and they con­stantly remind him to dress warm, look both ways when cross­ing the street, get a bet­ter job, buy insur­ance, etc. Their motto should be “if it’s not bro­ken, let’s fix it anyway”.

I use to dread their weekly visit because they invari­ably took over the house, bring­ing tons of food we don’t eat (“But it’s healthy! But it’s cheap!”), fix or replace stuff that should have been left alone and impart their pre­cious wis­dom until it results in argu­ments with Feng.

Now, the “Bùkū” are entirely ded­i­cated to their one and only grand­son and don’t have much time—or energy—left to “fix” us. They buy toys instead of fill­ing our fridge, and they are on Mark’s back instead of being on ours.

I love them even more… since they leave us alone. Plus they can help out with Mark. Sure, it annoys me when they over­feed him or insist to dress him with two pairs of pants and five sweaters (he may catch a cold at home, after all it’s only 25°C indoor… right?) but Mark is safe with them and we, the par­ents, can get a break.

Build­ing a fam­ily isn’t easy… nor it is to deal with your exist­ing one!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. but why can’t any­one do some­thing nice for me, for once?”

    Are you sure they don’t? Some­times we’re trapped in a prob­lem and any­one try­ing to help look like doing some­thing use­less for us. Maybe you need some­thing spe­cific and they just can’t guess what it is. Maybe you can explic­itly ask? Some­times, it’s sur­pris­ingly as sim­ple as that.

    I think it’s very hard to be… any of the role in a fam­ily, includ­ing grand-parents. In my fam­ily, I could see how some spon­ta­neous “help” that (grand)parents could pro­pose was per­ceived as crit­i­cism. Like “I don’t NEED you to remind me I have to change my baby’s dia­per” kind of things :) On the other end, the new par­ents were hop­ing another type of help that they didn’t get, which was as sim­ple as an explicit recog­ni­tion that they were doing fine as par­ents from their own parents.

    So well. Maybe it feels a bit forced and I would prob­a­bly be a bit shy myself for ask­ing, but maybe you could try to direct the help you receive? Explain to your mother that you would like some mother-daughter time and to your in-laws what could actu­ally be use­ful to buy since they like cov­er­ing the fam­ily with gift?

    I hope I’m not sound­ing patron­iz­ing, it’s not my intention.

    Bön courage à toi. Tou­jours dispo pour un café si tu as besoin d’un moment de détente entre filles :)

    • I think you are absolutely right. I must admit I wrote this arti­cle right after Christ­mas, when I was tired and, well, not doing so well. I didn’t have the chance to pub­lish it. When I read it again last week, I thought I’d pub­lish it any­way because this is how I felt but I have changed a bit since then and now things don’t look as bad.

      I suck at ask­ing for help. Part of it is prob­a­bly because as the old­est one, I took the care­taker role. Part of it is because when you are tired, you don’t even know what can help.

      I haven’t changed my mind about mi in-laws though 😆

  2. My sis­ter went through the same thing when she had her first son, for­tu­nately, it doesn’t last for­ever! I promise, it is almost like a novelty-thing. It must be made worse for you because you are so far away from your par­ents. I know the thing I miss most is my nephews — see­ing them grow etc. It is hard not to demand to see them instead of talk­ing to my sis­ter, because they change so much and because I have spent so lit­tle time with them, unlike the life­time spent with my sis­ter! I guess it is about try­ing to form an autonomous rela­tion­ship with these new peo­ple in the fam­ily. I have to try so hard to not do this with my sis­ter, but it isn’t because I don’t want to talk to her — because I do, all of the time — but for these rea­sons above.

    • Thank you for shar­ing the other side of the story! Indeed, a baby affects every­one in the fam­ily, not just the par­ents. And I’m sure it’s not easy for the rest of the fam­ily to adapt.

  3. HI Zhu, My first time read­ing your blog! My daugh­ter is named Juli­ette and we call her Juju as we live in France. I’m Amer­i­can and have been in France for 11 years, so a bit the oppo­site of your case. You’re def­i­nitely right that kids change the fam­ily dynam­ics and leave the mom (espe­cially) no time for her­self. Don’t know all of your sit­u­a­tion but try to take some down­time for you (maybe a play­date with moms with kids of the same age) to chill! And demand your mum’s atten­tion a bit cause you’re still her baby!

    • Eh, I am “Juju” too! This is funny, I don’t know too many peo­ple named Juliette–in fact, I had met only one my entire life! How old is she?

      It’s funny, you must have set­tled in France right when I set­tled in Canada :-)

      Any­way, thank you for stop­ping by and say­ing “bon­jour”. I love chat­ting with expats and immi­grants, espe­cially those liv­ing in France!

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